AF2 (styled as af2 and short for arenafootball2) was the name of the Arena Football League's developmental league; it was founded in 1999 and played its first season in 2000. Like parent AFL, the AF2 played using the same arena football rules and style of play. League seasons ran from April through July with the postseason and ArenaCup championship in August. The AF2 continued to operate while the AFL had suspended operations. The league was effectively disbanded in September 2009 when no team committed to playing in 2010.
Like most other minor sports leagues, the AF2 existed to develop football players and also to help players adapt to the style and pace of arena football. In addition, the AF2 was similar to other minor leagues because AF2 teams played in smaller cities and smaller venues. While the AFL was played in cities like Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Chicago, the AF2 fielded teams in cities which are part of metropolitan statistical areas ranging in size from Milwaukee (with 1,739,497 residents) to Albany, Georgia (with 164,000 residents). Players also earned less in the AF2, with each player making $200 per game.
The AF2 was founded in 1999 by the Arena Football League in an attempt to bring the game to mid-sized markets following the success of AFL on the national level. The AF2 was not intended to be a farm system for the AFL like the American Hockey League and Minor League Baseball are to the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball, respectively. The league was instead designed as a league that would develop the players. The lack of AFL-AF2 team affiliations would prevent the AFL from "stashing" players in the lower league for later use. Players in the AF2 are signed to one-year contracts, after the expiration of which they essentially become free agents to sign with whichever league and team they would prefer. The 16-week contracts with the individual AF2 teams also prevents players from leaving for the parent league mid-season; this preserves the quality of play in the lower league and does not destroy team dynamic with players coming and going throughout the season.
The foundation of the AF2 was a response to launch of several small-market leagues in the mid to late 1990s, including the Professional Indoor Football League, Indoor Professional Football League, and Indoor Football League. Each of these leagues, though they would eventually fold, managed to last a few seasons each, proving that the game had traction in the smaller cities. With Jim Foster's patent on arena football, the AF2 had the advantage of being the same game as was being seen on the national level with the use of the rebound nets. Working on a smaller scale, the AF2 would try to capitalize on local and regional rivalries.
The Xtreme Football League was another upstart league trying to capitalize on the arena football phenomenon. Founded in Birmingham, Alabama, the XFL (which is not related to the WWE-backed outdoor league) used East Coast Hockey League ownership to keep team costs low while providing established ownership and arenas for play. The league never played a game as it and its nine teams were purchased by the AF2.
The AF2 finally took the field in March 2000 in a game between the Birmingham Steeldogs and Tennessee Valley Vipers (the latter of which was one of the acquired XFL teams). Fifteen teams were fielded in 2000 with the rights for several more cities quickly secured. The Orlando Predators also purchased competitor Indoor Football League; several teams would be absorbed into the AF2 for the 2001 season.
The first season concluded with over 868,000 people attending AF2 games, averaging over 7,200 per game; several teams ended with average attendances over 10,000 fans. In addition over 9,200 fans attended ArenaCup I between the Tennessee Valley Vipers and Quad City Steamwheelers in Moline, Illinois. Deemed a success, the league returned for a second season and returned all 15 original teams as well as 13 expansion teams.
For legal purposes, the league was effectively dissolved on September 8, 2009 when no team submitted the paperwork to return in 2010. Since the AFL had ceased 2009 operations and later ceased all operations indefinitely after declaring bankruptcy, the minority owners of AF2 were wary of being owned by and paying money to the bankrupt league.
The remaining teams and Board of Directors of af2, and some former members of the AFL joined together to create a new league, Arena Football One, which was announced at a press conference on September 28, 2009. Legally, Arena Football One is an entity independent of the original Arena Football League and af2 and is made up of former AFL and AF2 teams with several new teams and one team from another league. After acquiring the assets of the former Arena Football League in a bankruptcy court sale, the new entity became the "new" Arena Football League.
The ArenaCup was the AF2's championship game, held annually in August. For the league's first five years, it was held at the home arena of the higher-seeded remaining team. However, as AFL has changed, the AF2 has also changed. In the same year that ArenaBowl XIX was played at a neutral site in Las Vegas, ArenaCup VI was the first AF2 championship to be played at a neutral site in Bossier City, Louisiana. The practice continued the following year when ArenaCup VII was played in Coliseo de Puerto Rico in San Juan; the title game returned to Bossier City in ArenaCup VIII. Citing lower attendances at the neutral site ArenaCup games, the league returned to the original arena arrangement for the 2008 season.
With the exception of ArenaCup V, all AF2 championships were televised either nationally or locally. The inaugural and second ArenaCups were broadcast on TNN Motor Sports/TNN Sports, which carried AFL games on Sunday afternoons at the time. However, when the AFL announced that broadcast rights had been purchased by NBC the ArenaCup national telecast was lost. The 2002 ArenaCup was televised by the Vision Network, and ArenaCup IV was televised by KWHB, a local station in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After having no television coverage in 2004, the national telecasts returned to the airwaves with Fox Sports Net in 2005 and Comcast Sports Net in 2006, 2007, and 2008.
As of 2008, ArenaCup 9, as well as the season in its entirety, was broadcast online via NiFTy TV.
The league's teams were divided into two conferences, the American and National Conferences. The conferences were further subdivided into three divisions each. Each division represented a region of the country in which teams played. Unlike most sports leagues, the alignment of teams into divisions was not even; in 2009, the Central division featured three teams while the West featured five teams. Teams were placed in divisions based on geographic rivalries to reduce travel costs as teams played division opponents more often than non-divisional opponents. Alignment was subject to change each year as new teams joined the league and others dropped out.
Because of legal issues regarding the dissolution of the original Arena Football League, no team committed to continue with arenafootball2 operations. This list is the final alignment of AF2.
In a June 2003 interview with Sports Illustrated, AFL commissioner David Baker briefly mentioned the AF2, saying how one day, he envisioned the league growing to 100 teams. The AF2 started off with 15 teams in 2000, then expanded to 28 teams in 2001, and finally 34 in 2002. The number of teams the league fielded dropped every year from there on after, until the 2006 season. 27 teams were fielded in 2003, 25 in 2004, and 20 in 2005. Finally, in 2006, the AF2 saw its first expansion in four years, fielding 23 teams, and continued that into 2007 with 30 teams.
The drop in teams between 2002 and 2006 could be partially attributed to the league expanding too rapidly in its first three seasons. Many teams were financially unstable and folded. This can be due to higher expenses compared to similar leagues. Franchise fees in the league ranged from $600,000 to $1 million. Historically, massive expansions had little success. For instance, the National Indoor Football League, a rival indoor league, saw large amounts of expansion teams after they beginning in 2001 but many struggled financially.
Nine new expansion teams were approved for 2007 in the AF2: the Boise Burn, the Cincinnati Jungle Kats, the Fort Wayne Fusion, the Laredo Lobos, the Lubbock Renegades, the Mahoning Valley Thunder, the Texas Copperheads, the Tri-Cities Fever, and the Corpus Christi Sharks. The Texas, Laredo, and Tri-Cities teams moved to the AF2 from other indoor football leagues. For the 2007 season the league fielded 30 teams. After the 2007 season, three of those teams folded, the Fort Wayne Fusion, the Cincinnati Jungle Kats, and the Laredo Lobos. Also the Everett Hawks, Alabama Steeldogs, and the Bakersfield Blitz ceased operations.
For 2008 the league fielded one less team at 29. Two teams the Iowa Barnstormers and the Peoria Pirates were reactivated, and the league admitted three new teams that were transferring from other leagues. The Lexington Horsemen came from UIF, the Daytona Beach ThunderBirds from the WIFL and the Austin Wranglers moved down from the AFL. After the season, Austin and Daytona Beach folded, along with Louisville, Lubbock, and Texas. The league was expected to expand to Toledo, Ohio and Worcester, Massachusetts by 2011.
When af2 legally folded, some teams joined the af2 Board of Directors in forming the new Arena Football One that became the new Arena Football League. Iowa, Milwaukee, Tennessee Valley (which changed its name to Alabama to reflect the state, not region), Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Bossier-Shreveport, and Spokane all seamlessly moved to the new AFL to join "old" AFL teams Orlando, Tampa Bay, Chicago, and Cleveland, and expansion teams in Dallas and Jacksonville, and the AIFA team in Utah which had originally been in the old AFL. Originally, Kentucky, Tri-Cities and Arkansas were also committed to the new league, but Kentucky folded, and both Tri-Cities and Arkansas joined Green Bay and Amarillo to the Indoor Football League. Albany will not play in 2010 while seeking an expansion into the "new" AFL in 2011, along with planned addition Toledo.
- Defunct af2 teams
- Arena Football
- Defunct Arena Football League teams
- List of leagues of American football
- List of professional sports teams in the United States and Canada
- List of Arena Football League seasons
- List of AF2 Seasons
- List of Arena Football League Venues
- List of attendance figures at domestic professional sports leagues — the AFL's attendance in a worldwide context
- NFL Europe
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